Our iPhones, social media, and laptops give us a sense of connection, but there’s nothing like an infectious disease, like the flu, to understand what “going viral” really means. Our connection also means we share a responsibility to one another to not put others in harm’s way only to avoid inconvenience or discomfort.
In 2019, the least a Philadelphian can do to be a good neighbor is get a flu vaccine.
The flu is often thought of as a “bad cold,” and for many young, strong, and healthy individuals that might be the case. But the influenza virus can be extremely harmful and even deadly to people who don’t have a strong immune system, such as the elderly, infants, cancer patients, and others who are immune suppressed.
The influenza virus has claimed many lives over the past century. Major global flu pandemics in 1918, 1957, 1968, and 2009 did not spare the U.S., or Philadelphia. During the 1918 pandemic, a particularly powerful strain of influenza killed 20,000 people in Philadelphia — one death every five minutes for six weeks.
But it doesn’t require a global pandemic with a powerful strain for the flu to claim lives. According to the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, in flu season 2017-2018, there were 50 influenza related deaths — more than double the number of deaths in Philadelphia from the “swine flu” during the 2009 pandemic — and more than 1,500 hospitalizations. The majority of those who died or hospitalized were over the age of 65.
People with weakened immune system, or those who don’t have the capacity to go get a vaccine, depend on heard immunity to protect them from influenza — and that means that everyone should chip in, especially considering that there is very little reason not to.
The flu vaccine is perfectly safe. The Center for Disease Control recommends the flu vaccine for every person above the age of 6 months with very rare exceptions (people with known allergy for the vaccine, for example). And even though a low-grade fever and some ache is a possible side effect, the flu vaccine cannot cause the flu.
Any Philadelphian, regardless of insurance status, can get the flu shot for free at one of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s community flu clinics or health centers at no cost. In addition, many pharmacies provide flu shots at no cost or low cost . Philadelphia employers should help their employees remain healthy and be good community stewards, by either arranging for a flu shot drive at the workplace or allowing employees to go out and get the flu shot without losing pay.
With a quick pinch, getting the flu shot contributes to herd immunity and protects the most vulnerable in our society from a potentially fatal illness. It is also a reminder that Philadelphia is a community that protects one another.